Wednesday 22 January 2020

King Arfur Woz ere!!!!

The mountain is called Myndd Y Gaer, which translates to English as Mountain of the Fort, and if I look out of my front window I look directly onto that particular  mountain.  I get a kick from thinking that I live in the shadow of such a momentous  structure. A mountain of distinction, a mountain that may lay a claim to being one of the most important mountains in the world.

 Read on, and you'll understand why I get  a thrill from being in close proximity to such a majestic mountain.

Upon this mountains are the ruins of an old church (St, Peter's church) and I still walk there quite often.

 I've walked that mountain many many times over the years - as a child I knew it as Fortress Mountain and there were many legends told about the area. Hidden somewhere on the mountain was supposed to be the gateway to Annwen, which was where goblins, fairies and all manner of creatures lived. Now fairies in the old Welsh legends I was told as a child were not benevolent creatures at all, but were quite evil - they would steal children, poison springs on the hillside and generally cause mayhem. There was often told in local folk lore of a creature call a Quwan, which had the horns of a bull, the head of a man and the body of a wolf.  It was also said to breathe fire like a dragon and it would roam the mountains after dark. Woe betide anyone foolish enough to be out wandering the mountains after dark for they would end up fodder for the Quwan.
The ruins of St. Peter's Church - photographed Jan 2020

All stuff and nonsense of course, but it does send a shiver up the spine when you find yourself up these mountain after dark, as I often do. To paraphrase Shakespeare,  - in the dark imagining some fear how easy the bush becomes a bear.

These stories, folk tales, legends, them what you will, are fantastic enough but there is one story related to this mountain and the old ruins of St. Peter's church that seems even more unlikely but refuses to go away. Are you ready for this - OK here we go. The story is, and there is some evidence to support this, that the church or rather a mound just behind the church houses the remains of none other than King Arthur himself.

Yes, that King Arthur - he of Camelot, the round table, Merlin and all that. I kid you not and I'll outline the supposed connection in a moment, but first I'd like to point out a rather amusing turn to the story. Not far from the old ruins there is a rock formation in the mountain and some joker, armed with spray paint has written the legend: KING ARFUR WOZ ERE!!!

That creative graffiti did raise a smile to my face, when I saw it the other day.

The facts are that Amateur historians Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett have promoted a hypothesis that King Arthur could be identified with a King Athrwys of Gwent. Now Wilson and Blackett went much further and they identified the church of St. Peter on Myndd-Y-Gaer as being the last resting place of King Arthur. So confident were the two men in their research that they purchased the ground upon which the church ruins sit, and sometime between 1983 - 1985 they organised an excavation there. They claimed to have found King Arthur's gravestone during that dig. Even more startling is that a later dig, overseen by the respected Eric Talbot of Glasgow University took place in 1990 and this time a silver cross was found that bore the inscription Pro Arnima Artorvis, which translates roughly as, for the soul of Arthur.
The cross found in the excavation of St. Peters

The church is believed to have been built on a existing structure which was dated, Wilson and Blackett claim to the 1st century AD making it the oldest existing Christian church in the world. In 1990 the full scale excavation was stopped due to a ferocious storm, with 100 mph gales making working at the site dangerous. At this point below the foundations of the church an older structure was discovered and what was believed to have been the entry to a crypt was partially uncovered, but due to problems with the authorities following the storm, further excavations were forbidden. Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett believe that this was the work of the  historical establishment closing down their research for nefarious reasons.

The reader will find several interesting videos HERE that outline the controversy surrounding the search for King Arthur.

There now follow several photographs, supplied to me by a friend, taken during the 1990 dig at St. Peter's church.

'We the Welsh have a good claim to King Arthur and we have been denied him.' Dr Russell Rees, Cardiff University.

'I'm surprised there isn't more support for developing the Arthurian legends in relations to Wales from the main quangos essentially.' Professor Morgan, Cardiff University.

'I've never had any doubts that Arthur was a Welshman, or as he would have thought of himself in those days, a Briton.'  Rev. Geraint Ap Lowerth

King Arthur belongs in Wales but he has been snatched, stolen from us and placed in Glastonbury where his supposed grave was discovered in 1181. However, that turned out to be a con carried out by the monks who were attempting to raise money to rebuild Glastonbury Abbey.

To my own mind there was a King Arthur but was he, Welsh? Well yes and no - during the 5th century Wales didn't exist, nor did England so it is difficult to place him in modern boundaries.

He is believed to have held the Anglo Saxons at bay for many many years and the Anglo Saxon would have called Arthur and his people, Wealas which means foreigner and is the root of the modern word, Welsh. So yes a claim can be made that King Arthur was indeed Welsh. Indeed the  modern Welsh word for the English is saeson which in the ancient tongue means Saxons. It is also a fact that the very first mention of Arthur was written in Welsh or rather Brythonic. Geoffrey of Monmouth made the first written claim of King Arthur back in the 12th century.

But back to the excavation of St. Peter's church.

Given that the storm drove the excavators away and that they were, for a time, forbidden to return it meant that a lot of the human remains pictured above were simply left, and were scattered by both ramblers and animals which, understandably caused a backlash in the local press. I remember my own local newspaper calling the dig ghoulish. I remember taking a walk up to the old church whilst the 1990 dig was taking place and I saw something that remains clear in my mind, I can even recall the image now. A grave had been excavated and I saw a complete skeleton, side on, still laying in the ground and what struck me is that the skeleton was a reddish colour rather than the bony-white I'd expected. The bones had been dyed a deep red by the years spent in the ground. It was kind of a surreal feeling thinking that this skeleton may have belonged to one of the names I'd often read on the ancient gravestones that dotted the ground around the ruins.

Today, the ruins remain and below are several photographs that I took on a visit to the location only this past week.

Below is an aerial photograph showing both ruins of the church and the mound where some claim Arthur is buried. Get this - the mound is boat shaped, which has led to the startling claim that Arthur is buried there within the fabled Ark of the Covenant.

Much of the research and claims by Wilson and Blackett are compelling, particularly the supposition they have put forth that a comet struck the British Isles in 562 and brought about the Dark Ages. There has been a lot of evidence to support this theory. The event is even recorded in the ancient manuscript, The Tysilio Chronicles.
'And then a Star of enormous size appeared to Ythyr, having a single shaft, and at the head of the shaft a ball of fire in shape of a dragon, and from the dragon’s jaws, two beams went upward, the one beam reaching towards the farthest parts of Ffraink and the other beam towards Iwerddon, which split into seven smaller beams. And Ythr and all who saw this spectacle feared, and they asked the wise men what it might mean. And then Merddin wept and said, “O nation of the Bryttaniait! now are ye bereft of Emrys Wledic, a loss that cannot be replaced.”

To sum up there is far too much here for it to all be cast aside as the rumblings of crackpots. There is enough evidence to suggest that the Arthur legends were stolen and tied into areas like Glastonbury for reasons that may never be truly uncovered. And Wales and specifically Glamorgan may hold a strong claim to be the area where King Arthur, that fabled king who has attained mythic status, truly belongs. Maybe that joker with the spray paint may have a point and KING ARFUR WOZ ERE!!!

Below is a video I shot at the old ruins a few years back

Friday 17 January 2020

The Witcher's timeline yanked into order.

The Netflix adaptation of   Andrzej Sapkowski's Witcher has been a triumph but has left many viewers confused by its non-linear storytelling, and I must confess to being a little puzzled myself until I realised that the time-line of the individual episodes were all over the place. As soon as I realised that fact my enjoyment of the series increased. And when I watched the eight episode run for a second time I came to the conclusion that this is truly a masterpiece of the binge era. It makes the most of the possibilities of this new way of broadcasting.

If this show had been shown in the old school way - that's an episode every week then I feel it would have fallen flat on its face; that no matter how good it is the confusions from week to week would have been too much and viewers would have fallen away. But in the modern era where entire seasons are dropped at once, and the viewer can control how much to consume in a single sitting then it works fine. In fact this non-linear device may have actually made the viewing experience more rewarding since total attention was required from the viewer.

So to break down the way the series works is that there are three main characters Geralt, Cirilla and Yennifir - now each of these characters stories are told in different timelines, and according to the showrunners Geralt's particular arc in the first season covers around 20 years, while Cirilla's is only about two weeks. And Yennefer's arc actually covers a massive 70 years.

Confused??? Well, watch the show and it will all make sense. But if you don't mind spoilers then below I have tried to outline the way the stories work in the eight part series. At least, this is the way I see it.

The first episode seems to largely take place during the present time, two weeks before Geralt and Cirilla meet and ride off into the sunset and season two. In this episode Cintra is under attack from Nilfgarrd and we will witness the fall and Cirilla being spirited away before the hordes over-run the castle. We learn that she is to find Geralt of Rivea. The sequences involving Geralt in the episode are taking place in the past, before Cirilla is even born, and depicts one of the coolest sword fights ever filmed.

Epidsode 2 - is the distant past and this pretty much gives us Yeneffir's origin story - of how she was a hunchback girl sold by her own father. We disover that she has been sold to a sorceress and will be trained in the ways of magic. The sequences with Geralt take place some time after Yeneffir's events in this story but before those sequences involving Cirilla which are again in the present. The sequence involving Geralt are taking place after Yeneffir's section but before the Cirilla sequence - we learn how Geralt first meets the bard, Jaskier. This episode forms the basis for Jakier's Witcher ballad.

Episode 3 - Again in the distant past, Yennifir's twisted body is transformed but although this makes her a beautiful women we will discover that it leaves her unable to bear children. Geralt's sequence is also in the past though much latter than Yennifir's sequence, whilst once again the events surrounding Cirilla are present day.

Episode 4 - Yennifir has now been serving the kingdom of Aedirn for three decades
. Geralt's sequence is vitally important here and we witness him at the betrothal feast of Princess Pavetta of Cintra.  The princess will turn out to be Cirilla's mother and it is events in this sequence that ties Geralt's destiny to Cirilla,

Episode 5 brings Geralt and Yennifir together in events that take place a few years after the events told in the previous episode, while Cirilla's adventures still play out in the present day.

Episode 6 - Geralt and Yennifir meet again during a dragon hunt - at this point Geralt and Jaskier have been together for many years. We learn in this episode that it was Geralt's last wish that bound him and Yennifer together. When Yeniffir discovers this she is furious and mocks Geralt for not claiming his prize for the law of surprise (an event explained in the previous episode) and leaves him.

Episode 7 - Geralt arrives in Cintra shortly before the events we witnessed in the first episode, He has come to claim his reward for the law of surprise, but instead Queen Celanthe imprisons him. When it becomes clear that Cintra is about to fall (remember episode 1) the Queen decides to give Cirilla to Geralt to keep her safe but Geralt's already escaped.

Destiny will bring them together.

Episode 8 - all of the stories in this episode take place in the present day and finally bring Geralt and Cirilla together. Geralt spends much of the episode in a feverish dream after being injured saving a farmer from a brilliantly executed zombie attack. The farmer takes the feverish Geralt to him home where Cirilla is already being cared for by the man's wife.

Least, that's how I think it all worked.

The first season was based on the book, The Last Wish, which is actually a collection of short stories set in the Witcher universe, that  take place before the events told in the actual first Witcher novel, Blood of the Elves. It was these stories that formed the basis for the first season of the Netflix show. It was a good way of doing it because had the showrunners started with the first Witcher novel then all of this backstory would have had to have been woven into the story, and I, and many viewers judging by the ratings and praise for the series, really enjoyed this series, confusions timeline and all. According to tweets from the showrunners, particularly Lauren S Hissrich who has really connected with the fans, tell us that the second season will feature a much more conventional storytelling style. This will please many but as long as they keep up the brilliance.

 At the time of writing, The Witcher is officially the biggest TV show in the world.

Friday 10 January 2020

Book Review: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

Until now I was only vaguely aware of the bestselling Witcher series - I'd heard of the hugely successful video games based on the books, but then I'm hardly what you'd call a gamer (even if I did become hooked on Red Dead Redemption II last year). I was also aware that the author outsells the likes of Stephen King in his native Poland but until now the books had escaped me.

 I do read in the fantasy genre from time to time, but these excursions into the genre are few and far between. In fact, it was  the excellent Netflix series (watching all eight episodes of the first season over two days) that provoked me to explore the series that started the whole thing. It seems I am not alone in jumping from the TV series to the books - a recent news report (HERE) revealed that the Last Wish has this week made the New York Times bestseller list 27 years after it was first published.

'Evil is evil. Lesser, greater...middling.'

The Last Wish is not the first Witcher book (that honour goes to 1994's, Blood of the Elves) but in chronological terms the six stories collected here  are in fact the first in the series. And so, armed with some knowledge of the character, I started to turn the virtual pages. Geralt is a Witcher, a mutated human being with enhanced eyesight, healing powers and limited magical abilities. He supposedly is also immune from human emotions, though many of his interactions in these stories belie that fact and the character comes across with a very real belief system of what is right and wrong. It seems that Witchers roam the country taking payment for destroying monsters that are terrorising the towns and villages. And whilst this may seem like the standard D&D fantasy type stuff it is a lot more than that, and the author subverts and twists traditional folk lore and fairy tales for his own needs. There's also a lot of dark humour in the stories, which greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the tales.

What is impressive from a technical standpoint is the clever way that the author has uses a device to connect these stories together rather than simply dump them together between the covers. This works as a novel engine, driving the narrative forward and none of the stories seem disjointed from the other - the reader is left with the feeling that they are reading an episodic novel, one complete story rather than an anthology of tales. This was done really well.  Basically the stories here are a mixture of twists, perversions even on traditional fairy tales as well as some European folklore that I wasn't so familiar wit. Though the Grimm brothers and  Hans Christian Anderson were never as dark, nor in fact as uproariously funny.

I very much enjoyed this book and coming off my viewing of the Netflix series, it gave me more understanding of the characters and worlds that Andrzej Sapkowski has created. I'll certainly be checking out more while we wait for the next series to drop on Netflix.

Saturday 4 January 2020

BBC's Dracula turns strangely anaemic for it's final episode

It seems that the BBC's New Year three-part adaptation of Dracula written by Mark Gattis and Stephen Moffat's is receiving almost universal praise, but to be honest it left me cold. There was some great imagery and some really effective sequences but at the end  it left too much confusion and resorted to becoming an undisciplined mess with none of it making any real sense.

The casting of Danish actor Claes Bang was a masterstroke and his Dracula is up there with the very best screen versions, but after two really effective episodes the character becomes an over-the-top horror anti-hero, more Robert England than Bela Lugosi. This was so disappointing given that the first two episodes had built up a wonderful inventive story only for us to be  given a convoluted finale that leaves plot points dangling and bombards the viewer with images, presumably in the hope that we wouldn't realise just how bad this had become.

The first episode was superb in building up atmosphere even if it did go slightly awry in the final scenes at the convent, the second was absolutely amazing and oozed atmosphere while the third was a shambles - admittedly a vivid, at times cinematic shambles but a shambles nonetheless. The dialogue in the final episode was mostly idiotic, the characters totally bland and any sense of narrative structure seemed to have been thrown out of the window.

It's as if the writers, both reportedly huge horror buffs, were so focused on offering nods to past greats that they forgot the most important element is the story itself - that Dracula is evil personified and can't be redeemed. There is no redemption for true evil and ending the show with the vampire committing suicide by drinking cancerous blood because, presumably he grows tired of feeding off the living, of destroying lives, is nothing short of bullshit. Dracula is an animal, a feral beast and not some new age toss-pot on a guilt trip. But that's not the worse of it though - to reach this point in the narrative the writers just throw random flashy images about, with one disjointed scene leading to another so that nothing makes any sense.

And it all started out so well, but in the end seemed to suffer from Game of Thrones syndrome, with the final act destroying the brilliance that went before.

Wednesday 1 January 2020

Bye bye 2019

It's been a frantic year for me - what with work and moving home (again) I've not done as much reading nor viewing as usual during the past 12 months. This year I read barely a hundred books - the lowest yearly count since I've been keeping records of that kind of thing). I'm not going to list them all  since I've misplaced my notebook (probably still in one of the many boxes yet to be unpacked) but here are just three of the books that were highlights of my reading year.

Snap by Belinda Bauer - An astoundingly good thriller.
Forever and a Day by Anthony Horowitz - the literary Bond has really found his mojo with Horowitz holding the golden pen.
The Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell - I finally caught up with this series and this last year I read the entire Wallander cycle. This first book in the series is excellent and the books gets better as the series progresses.

As for viewing I caught up with a lot of series and binge-watched Justified, Narcos, Bosch, The Witcher, The Boys,Locked up but perhaps the most memorable viewing experience of the year was The Irishman.

Disappointments of the year has to be the shit-storm that Game of Thrones became in its final season. All of that excellent TV only for it to end in such an unworthy fashion.

Here's to 2020.


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